Obama, McCain and the Uhurus: Who's playing the race card and why media fumbles the question
One reason why Barack Obama's people may be having so much trouble refuting John McCain's claim that Obama's is unfairly playing the "race card," is because the criticism was so politically astute.
McCain's campaign has lately seemed trapped in its own gaffes, from seeing CBS News save the senator from his own mistakes and confused statements, to watching Obama welcomed in Europe like November's elections were just a pesky formality.
But on Thursday, McCain came up with an argument which sounds reasonable to all those independent voters who may like the idea of voting for a black candidate who thinks like they do, but are wary that Obama will magically turn into Al Sharpton just before the inauguration. It's also an argument which has the added benefit of snarking off liberals and black people:
By anticipating attacks on his race, Barack Obama is the one playing the race card.
This was also an astute realization of the first rule in modern political campaigns: Don't attack an enemy where he's weak, attack him where he's strong.
Obama's problem is that McCain has distanced himself so effectively from outside groups and advisors who have even hinted at race-based attacks, that the Republican can complain about the implication that he might stoop to such levels. Of course, those attacks have happened anyway -- especially the perpetuation of this myth that Obama is Muslim -- so McCain can benefit from the attacks while complaining about Obama's defense.
This also extends a tactic we saw Hillary Clinton's people use much more ham-handedly in the primaries -- advancing arguments designed mostly to give those already uneasy about voting for Obama a non-racial excuse for voting against him. If history is any judge, you can expect these attacks to get less subtle as the campaign goes on, particularly if McCain's poll numbers don't move.
Cable news has played into this attack by recycling it endlessly during the day, along with footage of the Uhuru protesters challenging Obama at Gibbs High School. Anyone who knows this St. Petersburg-based socialist black nationalist group knows that Obama would have to be to the left of Stokely Carmichael to win their approval, but the cable channels have played footage of their protest continuously to suggest Obama may face a rift with black voters. Watch Obama supporters shout them down here. Watch a Uhuru member ask a question of Obama here. (please ignore the pro-GOP rhetoric embedded with the clip)
Consumers might expect journalists to add some perspective and information to these events so their impact can be fairly judges. But I'm betting many journalists -- especially those on cable TV news -- will prefer to wallow in the controversy of the moment, leaving the public once again wanting for reports which might present a substantive, evenhanded take on what's happened.